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Opinions - we all have them, right? They encapsulate our feelings towards the different things we encounter in our day-to-day lives, including the different types of food we come across. The best way to collate all these treasured food-related moments is, more often than not, in the format of a blog. At least, that's what York local Ben Thorpe decided when he launched the food-based blog 'York on a Fork' around two and a half years ago. I spoke to Ben to find out more about what exactly 'York on a Fork' represents, the journey the site and its contributors have been on since its inception and what the future holds.
Ben moved to the York area in 2001. He'd always had an interest in food, but prior to 'Yorkonafork' he tells me he worked in IT.But that simply wasn't his calling. He explains how he would often be thinking about which new restaurant to try out, and conversations with colleagues were always peppered with requests for suggestions of where to try out next. To add to this, Ben began to realise that there wasn't really anyone else in the local community who supported new food-related developments on an in-depth level; he wanted something more than a sole focus on simply reviewing restaurants as can often be the case. This was, in part, down to the fact that until around 2010, York lacked the range of quality restaurants the city currently possesses.
Thus it came to be that, in 2014, 'York on a Fork' was born. Ben maintains that from the site's early beginnings, there were criteria relating to the way the blog would be run that he wanted to ensure would be fulfilled. For example, his aim with the site's restaurant reviews is fairly clear: "We want to give publicity to people who deserve it and wouldn't necessarily get it", on account of them providing excellent service and food, but often being small independent restaurants which lack the time, energy and expertise to publicise themselves on social media.
Time constraints also had a direct effect on the initial plans of the blog. An online magazine compiling a collection of food reviews was initially run by the site's current digital editor Grace Abell-Neall, but this had to be curbed due to an inability to justify the amount of time and effort put into it. Going to the various outlets themselves is also something which requires a real commitment, not least because a number of places reviewed include eateries all around Yorkshire and beyond, including the likes of Durham, Harrogate and Leeds, in addition to the city of York itself. Needless to say, running the site itself is a mammoth task and one that Ben, alongside Grace, and Bethan Vincent (a former University of York student) are assisted in by several different contributors, each offering a different source of expertise to the final collective effort.
Ben tells me, as an example, how Bethan contributed an article that explored the ethics behind the creation and consumption of foie gras. He also plans to publish an article exploring the restorative powers of baking, written by a nurse from the local hospital; the piece examines how baking can help support those suffering from mental illness. As a result of allowing the blog's horizons to be broadened, the site is supplemented with fascinating articles ranging from food history to the most recommended Yorkshire beers.
Over time the site has continued to grow and grow. Today it has developed quite a reputation for itself, something which Ben feels helps with the restaurants they review. These have so far ranged from the likes of fine dining establishments, to those dabbling in food gastronomy, and cheaper so-called 'quick eats'. A key focus of 'York on a Fork', he insists, is "not just to review somewhere and then just archive them, but tweet about places regularly" in order to give them the publicity they deserve.
That's not to say that every place will fall under this category; ultimately, being true and honest about the experience is a vital tenet of reviewing as a general practice. The reputation of the site, and the rapport they have built both within the local community and with the county's restaurants themselves, have led to collaborations in the form of food events between 'York on a Fork' and establishments such as 'Masala Craft'. These food events generally take place during the evening and provide a bespoke menu for a select few who purchase their tickets through the 'York on a Fork' site, benefitting both the blog and the local restaurant.
However, it's notable that this increasingly prominent reputation can cause issues. For instance, Ben tells me one story entailing a man in Bishopthorpe 'reviewing' a restaurant under the guise of a 'York on a Fork' reviewer, and subsequently reducing a woman there to tears. Thankfully Ben was able to convince the owner of the restaurant not to take the story to the press, but it did prove a rather telling experience, namely with regards to the negative connotations success can bring.
Looking ahead, there is much Ben hopes to incorporate as part of the site's ongoing success. With regards to the restaurant reviews themselves, addressing the physical accessibility of the restaurants visited is something that Ben feels is worth including; he ardently believes in the importance of reaching out to as vast a range of readers as possible. The difficulty up until now with such accessibility information, he mentions, is not wanting to provide false or incorrect information to readers.
He also hopes to soon tap into the student market, with there being a notable gap in student-based offers; a gap that can likely be attended to. Social initiatives, such as those involving food waste, he additionally sees as a creditable enterprise and hopes to expand the involvement that 'York on a Fork' have with them. The development of the site has grown at an impressive rate, both in terms of content uploaded and the depth of contribution by those involved. One thing that admirably has been maintained throughout all this time is the quality of the posts featured, and it is exciting to see how the site will continue to develop in the future.